Interview on Sky News Live, AM Agenda, with Kieran Gilbert

  • Transcript, E&OE
Topics: EU trade negotiations; Hong Kong unrest.
13 August 2019

Kieran Gilbert: Returning to our earlier story on the EU trade negotiations, joining us is the Trade Minister Simon Birmingham in Melbourne.

Minister, thanks so much for your time. The EU has imposed restrictions on Canada, on Japan, on South Korea, when it comes to some of these naming rights in terms of geographical names like feta and so on. Given they've imposed those restrictions there; do you expect them to show any flexibility with us?

Simon Birmingham: Well, Kieran, good to be with you. Yes, the EU will show some flexibility in negotiations. You're right, that they [audio skips] an acknowledgement of the geographical indications process is part of a deal. That's why we've published this list of terms because we want to hear from Australian industry what they want us to go into bat on hardest, how they want us to defend them, and what is really going to be critical then is us negotiating the best possible deal overall for Australian farmers and businesses. And that's going to be a deal that, in terms of what we hope to get from the EU, gives us reduced tariffs, more quotas - or elimination of tariffs and quotas, better access in our services sector, stronger flows of investment. But of course also, in terms of what the EU wants from us, we're going to have to make sure that we go into bat and work hard to ensure that those producers who might be making a good that's on this list of terms the EU wants protected, that we find ways to ensure they are protected as producers and have a strong future, given the investments they will have made in their production to date.

Kieran Gilbert: We're talking about 500 million consumers. Where are the biggest potential gains, do you see it?

Simon Birmingham: This is why we're doing the deal, because it is a huge market for us. 500 million plus people, already our third largest export market, even though we have really restrictive quotas in place, high tariffs in a number of areas. What we want to do is make sure that different parts of Australian industry can get better opportunities for the future. I'm here at one of Australia's leading apple exporters and producers, and they face a 9 per cent tariff at present. South Africa also sends apples into the EU, they don't have any tariff at all. So we want to make sure these sorts of industries come in on a more equal footing with their competitors. Take sheep meat, for example, where Australia has a quota imposed on the amount of sheep meat that we can send into the EU. That is just a fraction of what the New Zealand is [audio skips] there again our sheep producers can compete more fairly with New Zealand in terms of sending their quality meats and products into the European Union.

Kieran Gilbert: And is it a reality basically that as part of this, some industries might not be entirely happy, but for the greater good we'll simply have to cop it?

Simon Birmingham: Overall, we'll do a deal if it's in Australia's national interest to do so. And if it's not, we won't. And so this is not a fait accompli in terms of whether a deal happens, and not a fait accompli in terms of the EU getting protections for any particular geographical indication or term that they seek. What we've done today is simply publicly release what the EU is demanding or requesting in terms of those 400-ish names and terms. For most of them, the vast majority, they are quite precise, truly geographical terms that relate to regions within Europe. And I doubt we'll hear any grumbles or complaints from Australian industry. [Audio skip] such as feta, where we would expect there will be some concerns and we will make sure we listen to industry and go in hard to defend them.

Kieran Gilbert: And will you do some independent economic modelling to ascertain whether or not it is in the nation's interest? Or is it just the Government's assumption that a deal with a mark of that size will be good?

Simon Birmingham: Well it's about ensuring that we get that additional access to that market, so that we get an increase in quota volumes or an elimination of those quotas, a reduction in tariffs or an elimination of those tariffs. And if we can achieve those steps in sufficient order of magnitude, then we can absolutely have confidence that this is a deal in the national interest and there will be-

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] So no modelling needed?

Simon Birmingham: And of course, there's also the services- well what we do is we look at each different component as we work through it and we understand from industry, the opportunities that they identify as being a priority for them. And [audio skip] the other key opportunity for us to continue to grow the business opportunities for Australian services industries, to be able to do more work right across the European Union and to be able to grow those very highly skilled job opportunities as a result of that.

Kieran Gilbert: So it's basically industry intelligence and common sense as opposed to economic modelling that drives this?

Simon Birmingham: Well that's the approach we have taken right through all of our trade negotiations and what we can see is the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the results Australia's enjoying. We've done trade deals as a government with Japan, Korea, China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, of course Indonesia. And where has that got us? It's got us to record export levels, record trade surplus. That type of growth in Australian exports, growth in our trade volumes has got us to the economic growth in terms of businesses and jobs around Australia by [audio skip] exports it's underpinning more jobs right across Australia. And that's what we want to keep doing, providing Australian businesses with more choices and fairer and better access to be able to sell their products, goods and services into more markets. We can't determine who they choose to sell to. But as a government, we want to make sure we negotiate the best possible access and terms for them to be able to sell into more markets around the world.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, just finally in relation to the Hong Kong unrest. Do you see blinks to- obviously we see these ongoing trade talks in the spiralling trade war, do you see a link here in the sense that the geopolitical unrest does flow into the economic situation? Because how would the US finalise a deal if there were to be some brutal crackdown, as some fear there might be, in terms of the protesters?

Simon Birmingham: These are very concerning and troubling times and they are so on a number of fronts. The elevat- [audio skip] the type of civil unrest and tensions that we see in a number of parts of the world, but particularly at present in relation to Hong Kong. Australia continues to urge all parties to engage in dialogue, peaceful discussion and negotiations, whether that's on the trade front urging the US and China to maintain dialogue, to try to ensure we don't see further escalation of the type of protectionist measures that are hurting the world economy, or indeed in relation to those civil matters of unrest in Hong Kong. We urge respect for the one country two system approach that applies in relation to the governing of Hong Kong and we urge respect for the right of peaceful assembly, something that we recognise and respect in Australia,that ought to be respected elsewhere around the world. And that where there are issues, that parties ought to engage in peaceful discussion, dialogue and negotiation to resolve them, not conflict.

Kieran Gilbert: Trade Minister, live from Victoria.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Kieran.

Media enquiries

  • Minister's office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555